Jennifer breathed the air, laden with the scents of fresh grass and wildflowers, in the overgrown yard of the rundown cottage where she stood. The doctor had made it amply clear. Frank needed to get away from the city for better health. She had been lucky in securing the cottage, cheap. A quaint two storeyed building, bedrooms on top, living area and kitchen below, sufficient for them.
A rusted swing stood forlorn in one corner. Frank looked at it with interest.
“We’ll paint it after ensuring it’s safe. Then you can enjoy it,” she promised.
They soon settled in with their meagre belongings and high hopes. Jennifer was happy with the changes in Frank. Where earlier he would tag along with her all the time, he had taken to playing in his room mostly now.
Loud noises from his room made Jennifer curious. What could he be playing at, creating such a ruckus alone?
“Enjoying?” she asked, peeping in.
“Just playing with Timothy, my new friend.”
Jennifer smiled. “Carry on.”
Poor boy. He has made up an imaginary friend to cope up with the changes.
She soon noticed Frank spending all his time in his room. His talk centered around Timothy so much that she became a little uneasy at times.
“You need to go out. All this play cooped inside isn’t good for you,” she tried to coax him, after he hadn’t stepped outside for two weeks.
“Timothy is scared to go out alone. So I’ve to stay. He’s the best friend I’ve ever had,” he replied.
“Frank, Timothy isn’t real. He’s imaginary. Let’s go paint the swing. Then you can swing,” Jennifer tried.
“Timothy isn’t imaginary.” Frank replied indignantly. “He says the swing is dangerous. It hurt him. Then his parents went away too. He’s lonely. I’m his only friend.”
Jennifer was surprised. Frank had strong belief in his stories.
Fall was fast approaching. The bare stairs and bare floor seeped cold along and despair into the house and her heart. She had no money and the cold wasn’t good for Frank’s pneumonia ravaged lungs. He fell sick like clockwork with the changing seasons, and this year too, proved no exception.
The night had been difficult. Frank’s fever had refused to come down and his cough had troubled him through the night. He lay in bed, exhausted when dawn broke. She reluctantly left his side for rustling up something.
“I’ll just be back with hot soup. You’ll be okay?” She asked.
“Yes! Timothy is here waiting, always. We’ll be together.” He reassured her, but his words filled her with an unnamed dread.
She woke with a start, the coffee lying cold in front of her on the table. She listened, horrified, to the giggling voices and the pitter-patter of two pairs of feet on the bare stairs. The sound of the phantom feet faded as they went out the door. And then a creaking sound reached her ears. The swing moving, back and forth, back and forth, joyfully.
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